Majority backs a ban on begging

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Six out of 10 Norwegians now want a nationwide ban on begging, according to the results of a new public opinion poll. The poll indicates that a clear majority of Norwegians think a ban on begging will discourage migrant poor from coming to Norway to beg, but the country’s left-center government won’t impose one.

The results of the poll, conducted for newspaper Klassekampen, support repeated calls to reinstate a ban on begging by police and conservative politicians. As a large group of migrant beggars took over another abandoned  building on Oslo’s affluent west side over the weekend, a move likely to force police into conducting another mass eviction, police officials criticized both city and state politicians for quarreling instead of dealing with the problems created by the influx of mostly ethnic Roma poor from Romania.

Rising frustration
The results of Klassekampen’s poll also reflect rising public frustration over the large numbers of people now begging and illegally camping or occupying buildings in and around most Norwegian cities and towns. Debate has raged for months over the sheer sanitation issues that have arisen, because of the beggars’ littering and public defecation, not least as increasing numbers of Roma are expected to arrive this summer.

While officials at the Romanian Embassy in Oslo largely have remained outside the local debate over their destitute countrymen, opting to highlight successful Romanians in Norway instead, the issue of dealing with the begging and sanitation challenges is left to Norwegian authorities. City officials want the state government to set clear rules, preferably a ban on begging that police could enforce, while the state has refused, noting among other things that an outright ban would have undesirable side-effects. Norwegian drug addicts and homeless, for example, would also be banned from seeking handouts, and even charitable fundraising campaigns on the street could be outlawed.

Justice Minister Grete Faremo

Justice Minister Grete Faremo

Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang of the Conservative Party and Justice Minister Grete Faremo of the Labour Party are now among those caught in a stand-off. Stang wants a ban, as do 72 percent of Conservative Party voters and fully 76 percent of those voting for the more conservative Progress Party, according to Klassekampen’s poll. Faremo refuses, proposing instead over the weekend that the state will consider economic support for local governments’ own initiatives to tackle sanitation and accommodation issues and allow them to set their own rules over where and when begging could be allowed. Both Stang and police officials have claimed such regulations would be unrealistic and impossible for city authorities and the police to enforce.

Klassekampen’s poll showed that only 31 percent of those questioned oppose a ban on begging in Norway, with the remaining 9 percent of the population undecided. Opposition was strongest among Socialist Left party (SV) voters, with only 24 percent favouring a ban on tigging. Several SV leaders have proposed measures to provide legal camping and sanitation facilities for the beggars as a means of dealing with the most pressing problems they create. Around 30 percent of voters for the Christian Democrats and Liberal parties support a ban on begging.

Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang

Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang

Stang remains firmly in favour of a ban on begging, believing that allowing begging or giving money to beggars also “stimulates” them to “continue with such degradation instead of moving on with their lives.” He told newspaper Aftenposten on Saturday that he thinks “the lives they lead lack so much dignity that it’s unacceptable.”

Stang claimed he ‘wasn’t afraid to be confronted with poverty” and that he wasn’t merely trying to “clean up” the city. “What concerns me is letting them continue to lead lives that are so difficult and hard,” Stang told Aftenposten. Stang thinks it’s “a shame” that “European society” and the countries like Romania from where the beggars originate “haven’t managed to provide” for their own poor where they live. Norway has provided billions in foreign aid earmarked for Roma folk in Romania, and even though it hasn’t prevented the influx of those still traveling to Norway and elsewhere, it plays a part in how Stang thinks the influx of Roma beggars is primarily a foreign policy issue that must be solved by the state government, not Norway’s local governments.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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